Sunday, June 13, 2010
YOUTH IN REVOLT (2009) - there's a revolution calling, but your hamburger phone is off the hook
I'm getting pretty tired of these "ironic" t-shirts. First of all, most of them aren't actually ironic (not that I expected these things to maintain the courage of their convictions). When that Juno chick or whoever throws on a Night Ranger shirt, it's because she thinks they suck. So, it's really a sarcastic t-shirt. In other words "yes, I really like this band. They rock soooo hard." Boy, that's pretty punk rock. Her apathy has dripped off and soaked her clothes. By the way, don't give me that "so bad it's good" shit. If you own all of the CDs, you enjoy it and you're a fan, so fuck you.
The revolt in question by virginal Michael Cera is apparently against his own self-awareness and lack of confidence, which prevents him from getting laid. Through an odd series of circumstances (his mother's boyfriend, played by Zach Galifianakis, has to flee some angry sailors, as is wont to happen), he ends up meeting the girl of his dreams, played by Portia Doubleday, who quite literally hits all of the bullet points that constitutes his perfect woman (especially the one about her wanting to shuffle vertically). Of course, his awkward Cera act proves no match for such a confident vision of loveliness.
To counteract this, he employs some curious methods. He creates an alter ego, eschewing the invisible Bogie for a slick 60's Frenchman name Francois (also played by Cera, branching out from his usual Cera-isms). This vision of hipness is a subconscious representation of what Michael perceives as Portia's own dream mate (she is a francophile, after all). Francois not only never holds his cigarette the same way twice, but also teaches Cera that being "manly" and "cool" is the way to get laid. Chicks don't wanna hear some shit about sensitivity and feelings and whatever.
The other component of his rebellion is to create random acts of destruction, spurred on by reckless Francois, like snipping his mom's bras in half and nearly destroying downtown Berkeley. While Francois is attempting to remake Cera into a suave man about town, reminiscent of Jean Paul Belmondo's character from Breathless, the results are more along the lines of Belmondo's character from Pierrot Le Fou. He's mad for love and he's not going to take it any more, and any chaos wrought while speeding down the highway of passion is so much collateral damage.
On the other hand, the plot clothesline could be compared to your typical 80's sex comedy. An awkward schmuck wants to get laid, so he gets into a bunch of wacky adventures to achieve this, getting advice from his buddies along the way (although they usual manifest physically). After 80 odd minutes of rip snorting shenanigans (mostly involving tits and farting), the nerd is honest to the girl, gets laid, and we learn an important lesson: just be yourself. What separates Youth in Revolt from, say, The Last American Virgin (sprinkled with some Play it Again, Sam) are the ironic t-shirts, both literally and figuratively. For example, at one point Zach Galifianakis can be seen wearing one of those wolf shirts, but with like 70 wolves (the "ironic" part, I guess, is that no one would really have that many wolves on their shirt). A simpleminded, staid plot plods along while the viewer is distracted by quirk.
Here I ponder said mystery "quirk". Michael Cera's earlier film Juno suffered a similar fate, a "should I abort my fetus" story that feigns importance, smothered with hipster dialogue and pop culture references. These layered affectations read not as character traits, but rather, as elitist, counter culture signifiers. Here is a screenwriter forcing in things that read as hip on the page, allowing the viewer to perceive the characters as sophisticated representations of a generation, distinguishing them from the unwashed suckers out there. Cera listens to Frank Sinatra on vinyl, because it feels like the opposite of whatever is considered the mass approved thing at the time (maybe Lady GaGa on an ipod). They refer to certain pieces of art as "wonderful" because it seems like they should be doing so, and not because these pieces speak to them in some way. When someone honestly revels in pop culture nonsense (like, I don't know, me for example), they are often doing so as an escape from the horrors of reality. In the case of your typical hipster, the horror they are escaping from is the possibility that they could be seen as an unsophisticated puppet of society. The real irony, it seems to me, is that you paid $25 for that anti-corporate t-shirt.